Known for his frank, tell-it-like-it-is form of comedy, the star of hit show “Sanford and Son” was an inspiration to comedians and minorities alike. Below is an excerpt from Black and Blue: The Redd Foxx Story, by Michael Seth Starr, in honor of his birthday.
Laff of the Party, Volume 1 is a slapdash collection of bits and pieces of Redd’s act, backed by raucous laughter (and the occasional shouted comment) from his Oasis Club audience, which sometimes sounds like a packed house and other times like only a handful of cackling customers. The record, about thirty-seven minutes long, is short on production values – about what you’d expect to hear, aurally, from a reel-to-reel tape recorder in a small nightclub. It’s divided into eight tracks, four on each side. The tracks on Side One are “Backward Conscious,” “The Sneezes,” “Song Plugging,” and “The New Soap”; Side Two has “The Honeymooners,” “The Politician,” “The Jackasses,” and “The Race Track.”
Judging Laff of the Party, Volume 1 by the standards of the times, it comes across as risqué, but the beauty of Redd Foxx’s humor lies in his clever wordplay. There is no profanity on Laff of the Party, Volume 1, but there are plenty of double entendres sprinkled throughout Redd’s four-to-five-minute-long monologues. Sometimes the wordplay catches Redd’s audience off-guard, and their laughter is a beat behind as they struggle to keep up with his rapid-fire delivery, to digest the verbal volley he’s just lobbed at them. At other times, Redd’s Oasis Club audience is right there with him, almost giddy with anticipation as he winds up and gets ready to lob his next zinger.
The record begins (somewhat abruptly, without any introduction) with “Backward Conscious,” in which Redd riffs on how some words spelled backwards have other meanings. “Did you know ‘motel’ spelled backwards was ‘letom’?” On “The Sneezes,” constructed loosely around different types of sneezes (“The confessional sneeze: ‘Ah Chew!’”), Redd segues into cigarette smoking with a smutty twist: “Do you know that out of four hundred, forty-six doctors that switched to Camels, only two of ‘em went back to women?”
“Song Plugging” is a takeoff on the old show-biz practice of selling, or “plugging,” sheet music or different acts to stores and record labels. But there’s a Foxx-ian twist when Redd talks about all his success “plugging” in New York City: “Pieces like Laura, Marie, Margie. Those were good pieces. I plugged all those pieces, I plugged ‘em all. I plugged that Old Gray Mare, but she ain’t what she used to be.”
In one of the record’s most memorable tracks, “The New Soap,” Redd talks to housewives in the audience about a new cleaning product called “Fugg”: “Suppose your husband works on a dirty job, in a coal mine, on a truck, in a garage…when he comes home all dirty and nasty, when he opens the door and walks into the house, tell him to go Fugg himself.”
Black and Blue: The Redd Foxx Story tells the remarkable story of Foxx, a veteran comedian and “overnight sensation” at the age of 49 whose early life was defined by adversity – and his post-Sanford and Son years by a blur of women, cocaine, endless lawsuits, financial chaos, and a losing battle with the IRS.
Foxx’s frank, trailblazing style as the “King of the Party Records” opened the door for a generation of African-American comedians including Dick Gregory, Bill Cosby, Richard Pryor, Eddie Murphy, and Chris Rock.
Foxx took the country by storm in January 1972 as crotchety, bow-legged Watts junk dealer Fred Sanford in Sanford and Son, one of the most beloved sitcoms in television history. Fred’s histrionic “heart attacks” (“It’s the big one, Elizabeth! I’m comin’ to join ya, honey!”) and catchphrases (“You big dummy!”) turned Fred Sanford into a cultural icon and Redd Foxx into a millionaire. Sanford and Son took Foxx to the pinnacle of television success – but would also prove to be his downfall.
Interviews with friends, confidantes, and colleagues provide a unique insight into this generous, brash, vulnerable performer – a man who Norman Lear described as “inherently, innately funny in every part of his being.”